The month of March is very special to me as this is the month when we celebrate women’s achievements. So, is it surprising that I should have seen in this month two of the best films I can remember in recent times ?
Both these films though located in completely different cultures have something in common - both are about two strong women in extremely vulnerable circumstances- BOL is a Pakistani film about a woman facing execution while KAHANI is an Indian film about a woman who is pregnant.
In BOL we have the protagonist Zainab who is fighting maternity- the oldest daughter in a large family she tries to save her mother from repeated pregnancies by making her undergo sterlization. The poverty of a family with too many mouths to feed and the “shame” that they seek to hide when their mother gives birth to a child who is a “transvestite” make her question whether bringing a child into this world without being able to look after it is not a crime in itself . A family governed by tradition and restrictions on the mobility of women, the daughters live a life of fear when their father is in the house. Their father on the other hand lives a double life - a respected pillar of the community whose daughters are well within the strict “social norms” on one hand while on the other he is a man who fathers a child with a sex worker in order to deal with his economic problems. Unable to deal with the constant violence, duplicity and subjugation, you see our protagonist rising up and killing her father to save her half sister !
KAHANI on the other hand is about something completely different. We have a very pregnant Vidya Balan ( Bidya Balan?) who comes from London to Kolkata in search of her missing husband. Her search for her husband leads her into dangerous brushes with the Intelligence Bureau who decide to use her as a bait to catch a dangerous agent who looks like her missing husband. The climax of the film has an interesting twist where we have Vidya chasing the agent in the crowded Durga Puja immersion ceremony. And ofcourse there is the grand finale where we have her as Mahisaura Mardhini shooting down a wanted criminal who was responsible for the killing of a train full of innocent people in a metro train two years ago!
While each story in itself is very unique what I find very inspiring is the portrayal of the two women. In both these films we find women who are not passive acceptors of their circumstances. Both of them want to do something and do not want to stop at anything when they are confronted with people with evil intent!
South Asian cinema has come of age! We have gone past , romance and eulogizing tradition- we have the courage now to show women as they are and we do not hesitate to celebrate their courage!
And in terms of statements both these films use religious beliefs very powerfully to define the context. While one film questions reproduction, arguing logically the point that when God gives humans the capacity to procreate he expects them to use this capacity responsibly , the other focuses on the mother concept – Shakti that is eulogized through Goddess Durga which finds reflection in a pregnant woman who is out on a mission.
KAHANI uses Tagore’s “ Ekla Cholo” or “Walk alone” as the theme song. When no one is willing to walk wit you- you walk alone towards your goal. BOL on the other hand has this background score that says “Speak up, Say what is in your heart”!
Maybe it is about women in different societies and therefore facing different challenges. Vidya being the NRI woman is more mobile and is able to take certain decisions even if it means walking alone when no one backs her while Zainab facing years of silence brings up the courage to “Speak up” and tell her story to the world!
Interestingly none of these films focus on the heroine’s physical appearance. There are no designer clothes, chiffon saris et al. We have one of them in a maternity dress while the other is in a faded salwar kameeze initially and later in a black shroud like robe. BOL however ends with greater hope than KAHANI simply because of the story line.
In terms of acting I must say that both films showed a genre of acting that was so realistic and beyond melodrama! Dare I hope that substance will slowly triumph over form?